Monday, January 15, 2018
News Roundup

Ex-HARC boss Richard Lilliston gets five years for role in diverting Social Security from disabled clients

TAMPA — Richard Lilliston used to be admired. Now, old friends shun him.

In the years when he ran a Hillsborough County agency for the mentally disabled, he enjoyed a reputation as a man who dedicated his life to serving those less fortunate.

But on Monday, a federal judge sent the 70-year-old Lilliston to prison for the longest term possible — five years — for taking advantage of those very same people and stealing from the government in the process.

"Everything I've learned about you tells me that you are a good person at your core," U.S. District Judge James D. Whittemore told Lilliston.

The judge alluded to some of Lilliston's accomplishments. But, like others in the courtroom, he couldn't overlook that vulnerable adults had been victimized.

"It's not the money," he said, "but from whom it was taken."

The remarkable downfall of Lilliston, who once rubbed elbows with Tampa's elite as the chief executive of the Hillsborough Association for Retarded Citizens, came after he was accused of diverting Social Security payments intended for the mentally disabled clients in his care.

In April, a jury convicted him of conspiring to defraud the Social Security Administration.

"As CEO, I take full responsibility for the fraud that took place during my tenure," Lilliston said. "I was the boss and the buck stopped with me. I'm truly sorry and I hope they can forgive me."

Lilliston led HARC, known in its later years as the Hillsborough Achievement and Resource Center, from 1997 to 2011. It operated group homes and community programs for the mentally disabled.

In court, Lilliston highlighted his successes, turning the program from a collection of poorly maintained buildings to vibrant group homes with various programs for the disabled.

HARC was entrusted to handle the Social Security payments of its clients, many of whom had profound mental impairments. Each client received payments into individual accounts. HARC had to report to the government what was spent on clients. If a client's savings exceeded $2,000, he or she would risk losing need-based Supplemental Security Income.

To prevent that from happening, HARC took the excess money and put it into an endowment account. As the agency found itself dogged by financial difficulties, it used the account to pay operating expenses.

HARC's chief accountant, Frank Pannullo, engineered the scheme. At Lilliston's trial in April, he admitted he and his staff falsified numbers on a spreadsheet meant to keep track of each client's contribution to the fund.

The stolen money also boosted the salaries of Pannullo and Lilliston and provided both with an $1,800-a-month car allowance, according to prosecutors.

In 2009, the Agency for Persons with Disabilities questioned HARC's use of the endowment fund. After that, Lilliston instructed Pannullo and another employee, Marsha Weisse, to get clients to sign "pooled trust agreements." The documents, according to court testimony, were an effort to make the financial arrangement appear legal.

Family members of some of the people who signed those documents packed the courtroom Monday afternoon. They told Whittemore how their relatives would have no capacity to understand their own finances or what they were signing.

Patricia Hurlbrink, whose son, Bruce, was a HARC client, addressed Lilliston directly.

"Richard," she said, "How could you not protect these people who depended on you?"

Defense attorney Mark Rodriguez pointed to Lilliston's age as a reason for leniency.

His wife, Debora, who has health problems, told the judge she didn't know how she would get by without Lilliston's help.

"I'm not taking your husband away," Whittemore said. "He took himself away."

Pannullo pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years in prison. He was the star witness at Lilliston's trial. Weisse, who was the program's controller and later chief financial officer after Pannullo's 2011 departure, pleaded guilty to related charges, as did former client finance manager Sandra Shepherd. Each received five years of probation.

In addition to prison, Whittemore ordered Lilliston to pay $657,635 in joint restitution with Pannullo, Weisse and Shepherd.

"I wish the worst for him," said Beverly Wall, whose sister, Linda Loveridge, was a HARC client. "What he did was horrific."

Contact Dan Sullivan at [email protected] or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.

Comments
Gary Trent, Duke rally past Miami with 18-0 run

Gary Trent, Duke rally past Miami with 18-0 run

CORAL GABLES — Gary Trent scored a season-high 30 and No. 5 Duke needed less than three minutes to erase a 13-point second-half deficit, scoring 18 consecutive points to overtake No. 25 Miami 83-75 on Monday night. The Blue Devils scored 15 in six po...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Mother of two, 42, identified as casualty after Port Richey boat fire

Mother of two, 42, identified as casualty after Port Richey boat fire

PORT RICHEY — As the boat disappeared in smoke and flames Sunday, as people leapt into the cold waters below, the neighborhood rallied. Residents helped the survivors ashore, gave them blankets and opened their homes to keep them warm.The neighbors o...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Lottery resultsNumbers drawn after 9 p.m. are no longer available by our deadlines. For results, go to tampabay.com/lottery.Pick 2, 3, 4, 5Mon., Jan. 15, midday:40 098 2397e_SRit98281Mon., Jan. 15, evening:14 345 3173e_SRit61471Fantasy 5Mon., Jan. 15...
Updated: 2 hours ago
On King’s birthday, Tampa Bay parties, marches, reflects

On King’s birthday, Tampa Bay parties, marches, reflects

ST. PETERSBURGTeenagers dunked on 8-foot basketball hoops, parents feasted on hot dogs and snow cones and gospel music blared from a wall of speakers in Tropicana Field’s parking lots.While thousands buzzed around them on Monday, Destiny and Dameka R...
Updated: 2 hours ago

ConnecticutArmy vet sues VA over scalpel left in body after surgeryAn Army veteran who says someone left a scalpel inside him after surgery is suing a Connecticut veterans affairs hospital. Bridgeport resident Glenford Turner says the scalpel was onl...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Shrine Game journal: Homecoming for Utah OL Salesi Uhatafe; Quinton Flowers works on snaps

ST. PETERSBURG — Salesi Uhatafe is back in his hometown, and though he moved to Texas when he was still a baby, it’s very much a homecoming as the former Utah offensive lineman plays in Saturday’s East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field."I’ll probab...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Iowa State’s two-way star Joel Lanning practicing at linebacker for East-West Shrine Game

Iowa State’s two-way star Joel Lanning practicing at linebacker for East-West Shrine Game

ST. PETERSBURG — Joel Lanning has the unique distinction of being listed as an "LB/QB" on the West roster for Saturday’s East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field.And while the former Iowa State star spent the entire practice at middle linebacker Mond...
Updated: 3 hours ago
A time of celebration

A time of celebration

GABRIELLA ANGOTTI-JONES | TimesBetty Taylor, who was marching with the organization Books on the Move, hands out beads along the MLK Dream Big Parade route in downtown St. Petersburg on Monday. Spectators were treated to floats, walking units and...
Updated: 3 hours ago

50 senators endorse net neutrality return

WASHINGTON — Fifty U.S. senators have endorsed a legislative measure to override the Federal Communications Commission’s recent decision to deregulate the broadband industry, top Democrats said Monday.The tally leaves supporters just one vote shy of ...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Ernest Hooper: MLK holiday is a reminder that action, not just words, is required

Ernest Hooper: MLK holiday is a reminder that action, not just words, is required

Minutes before the Rev. Janae Pitts-Murdock delivered her moving keynote speech at the Tampa Organization of Black Affairs’ annual Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Breakfast, I checked my emails.Mistake.Even in the 7 a.m. hour, anger emerging from m...
Updated: 3 hours ago